The Daily Special

Attention to detail in daily training sessions spells success for your long-term conditioning program.

By Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta, MA, is the President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems, in Sarasota Fla., and the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning, and can be reached through his Web site, at

Training & Conditioning, 11.8, November 2001,

Attention to detail is a concept that is synonomous with success. Investment brokers courting new customers trumpet their "attention to detail" when managing client portfolios. Marketing campaigns for car manufacturers often claim an "attention to detail" in the design and manufacture of their automobiles. In either case, the message is clear: Attention to the smallest details will boost the quality of the entire endeavor. The same holds true for your conditioning program.

In the conditioning world, attention to detail means emphasizing the most basic element in any successful training plan: the individual training session. A long-term training plan is essentially a succession of individual training sessions linked in pursuit of specific objectives. And because each session is an integral building block for the whole training program, it should receive the greatest amount of attention in planning. In other words, planning the details of individual sessions will determine the success of your long-term training goals.

The first detail that you need to plan is the theme of each session. A training session must have a general theme, such as an emphasis on speed and acceleration, lateral speed and agility, conditioning, strength, or endurance. This theme creates a cohesiveness between the drills within that daily session. For example, if you are emphasizing speed, you need to choose drills that build speed and naturally flow into one another. In addition, the task of creating a theme for each training session forces you to consider what components are necessary to reach your long-term training goals.

Each theme, in turn, should have very specific and measurable objectives. For example, objectives of speed and acceleration are easily measured and recorded using a stopwatch, while strength can be quantified by recording the amount of external resistance and repetitions. You must be able to measure and record progress in order to determine whether your overall objectives are being met.

Once you choose a general theme for each training session, you need to group sets of sessions into three areas of emphasis: Sets of sessions with a teaching emphasis, sets of sessions with a training emphasis, and sets of sessions with a maintenance emphasis.

Sessions with a teaching or a training emphasis will require significantly more time than maintenance workouts, particularly early in the season when building athletes'skills and conditioning levels is the major concern.

Workouts with a teaching emphasis are primarily designed to build an athlete’s understanding of skills, and therefore, they are more time consuming. If an athlete doesn’t "get it," be patient, spend the extra time, and be sure that he or she does eventually learn the skill, drill, or exercise.

When training a group, carefully plan to meet individual needs in a group context. Everyone will not progress and learn at the same rate. Remember not to rush your athletes through these sessions. Instead, take time to attend to the smallest details of the session along with your athletes'individual needs.

Workouts with a training emphasis should be part of a refining process that is designed to improve the basic skills that were taught in the teaching emphasis workouts. Remember, refining skills already taught will involve more repetition (the old adage, "practice makes perfect" comes into play here).

Once the season begins, or once your athletes'conditioning and skills reach desired levels, the emphasis should change from sessions that focus on teaching and refining to those that emphasize the maintenance, or stabilization, of what your athletes have already learned. The idea here is to maintain specific playing skills, along with the levels of strength and conditioning that have been attained thus far.

Conducting maintenance workouts once the competitive season begins is practical for several reasons. First, you want to avoid the possibility of causing overuse injuries and wearing down athletes who are facing the rigors of regular competition. Therefore, maintenance workouts should be intense with significantly less volume, and shorter in duration, than the early-season workouts that emphasized the development of strength, speed, and skills. Moreover, once a season begins, the time has passed for teaching basic skills; your inseason emphasis should instead be keeping your athletes in shape, focused, and motivated.

While you are planning the details of individual sessions and even individual drills, never forget that every component of each session must pursue the specific objectives of the workout. Always remember that the session is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

I have found that using a modular training concept helps maintain a focus on the long-term plan when working on the details of the short-term, individual session. The training module concept is quite simple: Design combinations and sequences of compatible exercises all geared to the theme of each session. In other words, an individual teaching session with an emphasis on endurance could entail a module of aerobic-emphasis exercises. Similarly, a session that focused on building explosive strength would contain modules of interrelated drills that include external resistance and plyometrics.

Within each module, exercises should be carefully sequenced to flow from one to the next. The volume and intensity for the exercises within each module are determined for each session based on an analysis of the previous session. This analysis should include the conditioning levels of your athletes, how effective the drills are, and whether the particular module is implemented preseason or inseason.

Also, whether you are creating workouts for in-season or off-season use, make sure to include an injury prevention component. This component is most easily addressed in the warm-up through specific exercises and by integrating recovery times between individual sessions and drills. Consider how to incorporate recovery given the constraints of most situations. Self-massage, shaking, and stretching as well as intra-workout nutrition in the form of hydration are the most basic and practical forms of intra workout recovery (see "Massage To Go" in the Oct., 2001, issue of Training & Conditioning).

Although conditioning coaches constantly change sessions to fit evolving program goals, I find it useful to use basic, proven templates for sessions. With a little tinkering, these templates can be used both in-season and off-season. My basic templates are listed below:

For an in-season daily plan, include the following elements:

•Warmup. For an in-season workout, I focus my warmup exercises on coordination, balance, and flexibility.

•Athletic Development Activity. This is the meat-and-potatoes of your workout. It includes all drills and exercises that you want your athletes to perform, minus the warmup and cooldown. I divide my drills and exercises here into the following focuses: skill, tactics, strategy, and specific fitness drills such as leg strength or arm conditioning.


The following three templates are useful for off-season sessions. Within each template, arrange the drill sequences in the order listed:

Off-Season Template A: Speed and acceleration theme.
•warm-up with emphasis on coordination, balance, and flexibility
•speed and acceleration work
•lateral speed and agility footwork
•sport-specific skill work
•strength train

Off-Season Template B: Lateral speed and agility theme.
•speed and acceleration work
•lateral speed and agility work
•skill work with the ball
•strength train

Off-Season Template C: Conditioning Theme.
•continuous warmup
•skill work with the ball
•conditioning. Include intensive tempo, extensive tempo, or speed endurance

The details included in planning individual workouts go well beyond a list of exercises that athletes will follow. Other factors that have to be considered include training time available, size of the facility relative to the number of athletes, available equipment, available coaching personnel, and the number of athletes who will participate in the actual training session.

The following example of a training program for a female high school basketball team illustrates some of these management considerations. Because of the size and experience of the team, the athletes were divided into two groups, which allowed workouts to be staggered to accommodate limited practice space. This division also allowed more than one session for each group in a single day. Splitting a team may not be an ideal arrangement in terms of sequence of training, but in this case, it was expedient, practical, and it produced results.

In situations where multiple sessions in a day are used, it is helpful to use the following model of the focused workout for each session:

Focused training session. Everything is subservient to the focus of the workout; in this example the focus is on speed development.
• warmup
• power development: multi-jumps or multi-throws
• speed development
• cool down

A more typical scenario is using a complex training session once a day. It is called complex because it addresses multiple components within a single training session. It is common in team sports.

Complex training session.
• warmup
• technical and tactical work
• conditioning and metabolic
• strength training
• cool down

Finally, at the conclusion of each session, the day’s activities must be carefully evaluated and, if necessary, the sessions that follow it must be adjusted accordingly. Evaluation is a constant, ongoing process that should be part of each training session. Never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate test is the competition itself.

SIDEBAR: Strength Theme

Here are examples of two sessions with an overall theme of increasing a basketball player’s basic strength. The emphasis is to develop the athlete’s ability to handle his or her own bodyweight, then to be able to handle an external resistance of dumbbells and free weights. In terms of power, the focus is on teaching and stabilization of jumping techniques, especially landing techniques as a precursor to an emphasis on lateral speed and agility in the pre-season training phase.

Each workout begins with a warm-up that emphasizes fundamental movements (coordination and balance) and core strength. There is no conditioning work during this phase, although the athletes should be playing summer league games and having informal practices. Strength and power development along with individual skill development is the player’s focus.

Monday July 2, 2001
Group One: Mini band routine
Basic core drills:
1) Wide 2) Tight 3) Over the top 4) Figure eight

Multi-dimensional stretch:
1) Lunge reach series 2) Jack knife crawl 3) Creepy crawl 4) Hurdle walks

1) Skip 2) Side step 3) Carioca 4) Backward run 5) High skip

Balance (hold each position 10 seconds):
1) Single-leg squat balance, 2) Balance shift, 3) Balance circuit

Strength Training:
Incline push-up. 4 x 10.
Incline pull-up. 4 x 12 (feet elevated).
Combo I (curl and press). 3 x 6.
Combo II (over the top). 2 x 6.
Standing bench press. 3 x 12.
Bent row. 4 x 6.
Reverse fly. 3 x 12.
Arm step-ups. 3 x 20.

Medicine ball wall throws:
Overhead throw. 20 x.
Soccer throw. 20 x.
Chest pass. 20 x.
Down the side. 20 x.
Cross in front. 20 x.
Around the back. 20 x.

Monday July 2, 2001
Group Two: Mini band routine
Basic core drills:
1) Wide 2) Tight 3) Over the top 4) Figure eight

Multi-dimensional stretch:
1) Reach series 2) Jack knife 3) Creepy crawl 4) Hurdle walks

1) Skip 2) Side step 3) Carioca 4) Backward run 5) High skip

Balance (hold each position 10 seconds):
1) Single-leg squat balance 2) Balance shift 3) Balance circuit

Multi-direction jump. 4x.
Lateral bound. 3 x 10.
Hurdle jumps a) forward 5x5 b) multidirectional 3x5.
Box-up jumps. Forward, lateral and rotational. 1 x 5 for each jump.

Strength Training:
High pull. 4 x 6.
Push jerk. 4 x 6.
Leg circuit. Three complete circuits (no recovery).
Squat. 20 x.
Lunge. 20 x.
Step-up. 20 x.
Jump squat. 10 x.

Medicine ball. Total body throws:
Over-the-back throw. 6 x.
Single-leg squat throw. 6 x.
Forward through-the-leg. 6 x.
Single squat scoop throw. 6 x.
Squat throw. 10 x.